If hemochromatosis is diagnosed early, treatment can begin before any serious organ damage has occurred. Treatment is by simply removing blood to remove excess iron and get iron levels back within the normal range (50-150ng/mL). This blood removal is by regular blood donation or phlebotomy. Normal healthy people can donate blood every eight weeks, but in people severely affected with hemochromatosis, it may be necessary to donate up to eight times in a single month! After the blood iron levels have returned to within the normal range, the lifelong maintenance consists of donating blood every 2 – 4 months.
How Effective is Treatment?
When hemochromatosis treatment begins early, and before organs are damaged, affected individuals can expect to live a normal, healthy life. However, people that are diagnosed and treated after serious organ damage has occurred may have a shortened life expectancy, due to serious complications (e.g. liver cirrhosis and cancer) that cannot be reversed.
Diet and Lifestyle
Diet and lifestyle changes are usually recommended in conjunction with regular blood donations to control iron levels. These include avoiding iron supplements and vitamin C supplements, as vitamin C increases the level of iron absorption. Alcohol also increases the absorption of iron (and increases the risk of liver cirrhosis and cancer) and red meat contains high levels of iron, so both should be limited. Other foods that are enriched with iron (including some cereals, breads and snacks) should also be limited. Hemochromatosis can increase susceptibility to infections, particularly from raw shellfish, so these should be avoided. It is also recommended to drink tea and coffee, as these beverages contain tannin, which helps minimize iron absorption. Regular exercise is also recommended, along with regular check ups to monitor iron levels.
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Hemochromatosis.org. Provided by Iron Disorders Institute.